GREEN BAY – Any remaining emotion about the Packers’ loss to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game has been absent from Green Bay’s locker room since April.
When players reported for offseason workouts, head coach Mike McCarthy addressed the collapse that had happened three months earlier. They watched film of the game and made corrections. The coaching staff was, in the words of nose tackle B.J. Raji, "very critical" about it.
Before that meeting, players didn’t feel like they had closure. The emotions were still raw.
"It was literally, we lost, we flew back, had exit interviews, then everybody took off," Raji said.
In the minds of players, McCarthy’s offseason speech closed the chapter on the 2014 season – and most importantly, on losing to the Seahawks.
"The emotion for that particular loss is now out of it," Raji said. "We didn’t forget about the game, but the only way you can learn from a situation like that is to take a more analytical approach and not so much an emotional approach. After you talk about it and move past it, leave the emotions behind, but take the lessons and move forward."
Eight months after the NFC Championship Game and five months since McCarthy’s point-blank talk with his team, the Packers get another shot at Seattle. And after losing three times at CenturyLink Field over the past three seasons, Green Bay finally gets to test the Seahawks at Lambeau Field.
But as much as fans might view this game as an opportunity for the Packers to make a statement, the players are trying to avoid that line of thinking.
Linebacker Clay Matthews and right guard T.J. Lang both tried watching last week’s Sunday night game between the Cowboys and Giants. But it was bothersome for them to hear NBC promote the upcoming Packers/Seahawks game as being about some bigger picture situation.
"I know it's media-driven," Matthews said. "We've heard talk of it being a revenge game, but ultimately this is just the second game of the season. Much like any season, we've got to start strong and fast, and we've got a very good opponent come in here.
"It's not as if we win this game, all is forgotten. I'm sure there's some extra motivation for some, but the reality is it's a very good team and it's a new season and they have the same weapons we saw last year. It should be a fun game. I know it's what the fans are looking for, and it's a good test to see where we're at, where they're at early on."
Added Lang, "It’s more media hype than anything for us. We haven’t really even talked about last year."
The feel inside the Packers locker room Wednesday supported the team’s stance that emotion has been removed from the equation. Much like Green Bay’s "next man up" mantra, the Seahawks were being treated as simply the next team up on the schedule.
"No, it's not an emotional game," Matthews said. "You're coming up with these dramatic stories."
Aside from the supposedly dramatic, media-driven stories surrounding the game, there’s no denying the Packers’ recent struggles in beating Seattle. It could be argued that the "Fail Mary" game of 2012 was one in which Green Bay would have won if not for replacement referees calling the game. It could also be said that the Packers were in full control of the NFC Championship Game before a series of improbable plays led to an unlikely Seattle comeback.
But in the record books, it’s three consecutive wins for the Seahawks over Green Bay. The Packers have actually yet to defeat the duo of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch.
"I can assure that we don't feel as if we're going into this game and we don't have a chance," Matthews said. "That's the great thing about the NFL, especially another season, is that you have another opportunity, another chance, and you hope you make it that year – this year in particular, you just try and improve on the losses that you have.
"They're unfortunate losses, there's no doubt about that, but we've got to bounce back and get this one."
If Green Bay does win Sunday night and end its losing streak against Seattle, it will also ensure the Packers of not starting 1-2 for the first time since 2011. It would force the Seahawks to an early 0-2 record, which is unfamiliar territory for a team that started 4-0 and 3-1 over the past two seasons.
"I think the elephant-in-the-room question is, ‘How is the loss going to affect us going forward?,’" Raji said. "And I think that’s what people are trying to stress is that we’ve already addressed it in the offseason.
"Like anything else, eventually the emotion dies down. Time heals all wounds. Eventually, as time went on and we addressed it, we kind of moved on and got ready for the preseason and then Chicago. Now that it’s here, it’s here. After Sunday, it will be gone."